by Laurent Kelly
Duck Soup (1933) – Director: Leo McCarey Screenplay: Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby (Story), Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin (Additional Dialogue) – a number of the sequences are improvised by the performers Starring: Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, Charles Middleton OSCAR COUNT (0)
“Rufus T. Firefly: Not that I care, but where is your husband?
Mrs. Teasdale: Why, he’s dead.
Rufus T. Firefly: I bet he’s just using that as an excuse.
Mrs. Teasdale: I was with him to the very end.
Rufus T. Firefly: No wonder he passed away.
Mrs. Teasdale: I held him in my arms and kissed him.
Rufus T. Firefly: Oh, I see, then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.”
The Marx Brothers were representative of a golden period of Hollywood comedy where performers were able to do more than just read amusing lines. Along with Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, the brothers Marx were super talented performers who appeared almost superhuman in their ability to entertain. Years of stage practice honed their impeccable sense of vocal timing and magical stage-like movements and it gifted audiences with the type of off the charts showmanship that has really never been bettered since.
Duck Soup is the best of their many efforts and is quite simply 65 minutes of non stop entertainment. Innovative and patiently delivered set-pieces, exhaustively witty dialogue and a tremendous energy just emnates from the screen resulting in what is truly an irresistible and timeless comic masterpiece.
There are some films that time is incredibly kind to and Duck Soup is one of them. The odd reference aside, all the jokes still work, the content still fresh,and the chemistry still admirable. Even today I watch with amazement at the sheer craftmanship on display with the hours that have gone into preparing such detailed and immaculate gags.
The film is also a cunning satire on the fickle nature of war with characters announcing the need for battle over trivial name-calling and then switching sides when they discover that the opposition serve better food.
Soldiers killing each other for the sake of their leaders egos resonates strongly today even though the film has no interest in pushing this point down audiences throats. Its purpose is to merely entertain within a war background and it does so flawlessly.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT THIS FILM: Duck Soup was banned in Italy by dictator Benito Mussolini who thought the film was a direct attack on him.